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Adrian Wooldridge

The Five Habits of Highly Successful Companies

As public scrutiny and criticism intensifies, a new history of businesses sheds valuable light on the do’s and don’ts of responsible behavior.

Big companies become big targets.

Big companies become big targets.

Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Every few decades, society has an allergic reaction to corporations. This happened in the 1890s, when companies were demonized as blood-sucking octopuses. It happened in the 1930s, when they were denounced as threats to the common good. It is happening again today.

Remember when Facebook was celebrated as an agent of global harmony? Now known as Meta Platforms Inc., it is widely reviled as a poisoner of democracy. Or when everybody agreed that governments should be run more like businesses? The world’s best-known businessman-turned-politician is Donald Trump. Polemicists compete with each other to produce the most disobliging terms to describe corporations — though the prize, in my view, still goes to Matt Taibbi’s 2009 description of Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”